July 4, 2004

A great book and a bad cliché.

There's a decent discussion of Stephen Shore's great photography book "Uncommon Places," in today's NYT. The piece, written by Philip Gefter, ends:
In Mr. Shore's photographs, a descriptive, almost deadpan, quality lets the viewer contemplate the subject without ambiguity. That's the influence of Warhol in this body of work and what gives it the feel of that decade [the 1970s]. At the same time, Walker Evans remains the ghost in the frame. Mr. Shore agrees: "If I were to say in the photography world that there was one person who I used as a springboard for ideas and a resource to learn from, it was Walker Evans."

Mr. Shore's work is not quite so sober as Evans's. There is an antic undercurrent to his straight-faced pictures, as if, after staring at the sheer actuality of what was laid out before him, he might have burst out laughing before making the picture. Think of Walker Evans — stoned.

It's an excellent write-up generally, but I really object to that lame last line. Isn't it time to abandon the tired expression that something is like something else on drugs? To say it is to display a lack of descriptive imagination, but it is worse than the usual cliché, because it degrades the art it means to praise and deprives the artist of credit for his own vision.

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